Sex ≠ Intimacy
Sex is physical, while intimacy is emotional – a state of mind. Sex is best described using action words: hot, thrust, lust, wet, hard, desire, need. When adding intimacy use emotive words: heart, care, soft, warm, love, want. Both come together in romance but intimacy isn’t a requirement when writing sex scenes or erotica.
How confident you are affects how you write. You need to be comfortable with the content of your story or risk coming across as shy and hesitant, or even worse - prudish. Readers can sense when a writer is not being authentic. If you think a word is insulting, then don’t use it. Likewise, if you find certain sexual acts perverted, do not write about them. There are plenty of authors out there who can, and will, write on the fringes, so you don’t need to force yourself into spaces that make you uncomfortable.
When writing sex, you don’t need to follow that old chestnut “Write What You Know”. I’ve never fucked an elf, but I write about elves fucking. BUT…you absolutely must do your research. Take care when writing sexualities that are not your own. If in doubt, get a sensitivity reader to check your work.
Elements of a sex scene
I think writing a good sex requires much the same approach as writing a good fight scene. Both are physical but should not just be a blow-by-blow account of the action. A good sex scene involves all the senses: taste, smell, touch, sight, sound, it’s not just about the mechanics.
When writing human sex, it must be physically possible. If one of your characters is a middle-aged woman, can she really put her legs behind her ears? And, it always pays to count your limbs. Nothing is more off-putting to the reader than a third hand joining the party! Alien sex is less bothersome - four tentacles? Why not make it eight?
Your readers should have no trouble following who’s doing what to who. This is especially important when the sex scene involves three or more participants. Use the characters’ names or find some other way of identifying who is who.
I do my best to ensure my sex scenes are safe, sane & consensual but I sometimes blur the lines around sanity.
Avoid Purple Prose
For the love of all that is sacred please avoid explicit euphemisms for sex and anatomy in your prose. To a limited extent they are OK in dialogue, but really, it’s just best to avoid them. No one wants to read about a character’s love truncheon, towering pillar of manhood, oyster, or love cave.
At the same time, using technical terms can come across as cold and clinical. You need to find terms you’re comfortable using. Again, a little research and sensitivity readers can be invaluable.
Purpose of sex scene
Unless you’re writing pornography, sex needs to serve a purpose.
It can help strengthen an emotional attachment between characters and define relationships. Sex can often be used to reveal who has the power in a relationship, or to flip an expectation. Character can be revealed during a sex scene, someone cold and calculating can be shown as vulnerable and needy. A sex scene can expose hidden attitudes and reveal secrets.
Know your audience
Be aware of your audience. Putting explicit sex into a YA novel is a very, very bad idea. BUT, if you are writing solely for the erotica market, your readers will expect a sex scene to make them hot! Don’t let them down! Read widely in your genre to understand reader expectations. Personally, I think sex has a place in all genres (except for literature aimed at the under 18-year-old market), but it needs to be handled well so readers aren’t shocked. In the blurb for Letters From Elsewhere, I wrote, “If you like your fantasy and science fiction a bit dark, laced with humour and sometimes spicy, these stories will entertain, disturb and challenge you.” Anyone who buys the collection should know what they’re getting into.